I’ve never said “I love you” to my husband. And looks like many of you haven’t either.
Let me explain.
Even though I’m a stand-up comedian in New York City today, I grew up in India.
Like many Indian people, my life was consumed by making plans for the future and being ready for the apocalypse.
Love seemed like an unattainable luxury, because love is irrational, sees no boundaries, and is blind.
Most Indian people can’t afford to be blind — we’re already poor.
No one ever asked me if I loved something or someone.
When I met my husband of 22 years in America, we were two people from tough circumstances in India who were determined to make life work for us here. We didn’t really think much about ‘being in love’.
Our love story is more about the little everyday decisions made with consideration for the other’s feelings.
For example, every night I wake up in a panic with an irrational need for socks, even if it’s 100 degrees out. Now my husband puts a pair of socks by my side of the bed before he goes to sleep.
And he told me when we met that going to sleep early is a priority for him. We built our life around that schedule.
We figured since we’re married, we may as well help each other live our best lives and sleep our best sleeps.
We weren’t saying “I love you”, but maybe we were doing it?
Taking a stand on love
So when I started writing for my stand-up comedy act, I began thinking about the cultural differences I may have from others — especially compared to the American audiences who see me perform.
Love shot to the top of the list.
I’d get to the microphone in front of a dark room of a hundred or more people, and open with this line:
“I’ve never said ‘I love you’ to my husband. And if he said it to me… I’d know he’s cheating on me. With a white woman.”
Cue screams of laughter… there is a two drink minimum at comedy clubs.
Often, an audience member (brown or otherwise) would tell me afterwards that they’ve never said it either!
Latinas, Black women, Muslim women, Filipinas, Chinese women…
I discovered I wasn’t the only one.
Within days of posting, it had more than 1.6 million views, 115,000+ likes and 1,000+ comments — many a variation of “I don’t say ‘I love you’ either!”
TikTok’s viewers are all over the world, a large percentage from Asia.
It all made me wonder if maybe there was a deeper meaning to this joke.
Maybe “I love you” is a first world idea.
Disney princesses and classic romantic Hollywood movies train people to say these words and expect all that those words bring with them.
In America, if you like someone, and if you want to marry them, you announce that you love them.
Some even spend a lot of money on artifacts to prove their love.
There are no engagement rings in India, just frantic calls to the closest hundred relatives.
In America, you can love someone deeply but also state certain parameters. “I love you, but just so you know, I’m high maintenance.” “I love you, but I can’t marry you while you have that job.”
You can even go “on a break” from loving each other as if love is a light switch with an on-off button.
The TV sitcom Friends was on when I was new in America.
I remember being so thoroughly worried about Ross and Rachel and their constant indecision about their love status that when I wrote my own personal ad in 1997, I clarified that I did not want to be friends with anyone. I was looking for marriage only.
I wasn’t looking to get married to be happy. I wanted to build a life with someone.
Security, a roof, some kids. (No pets, no matter how American our kids got.) I knew we’d work the kinks out.
My 17-year-old daughter has been raised in America by parents whose views of love are slightly different than what she saw on How I Met Your Mother.
She has had a lot to wrap her head around.
She’s never seen her parents hold hands.
Did we even…”you know?”
I tell her, “Of course we do. Why do you think we pay for so many tennis lessons for you?”
But now that I’ve shared my, “I’ve never said ‘I love you’” joke all over the world, to millions of people, I’ve learned that this kind of relationship is the reality for many, many people.
And maybe we need to come up with our own phrase.
So instead of “I love you,” I propose, “I You.”
What else is there?